The public should be able to ditch face masks over the summer as vaccines do the heavy lifting in controlling Covid-19, Government scientific advisers believe.
Step four of the Government’s road map for England currently states that all legal limits on social contact will be removed by June 21 at the earliest, when restrictions on large events such as festivals are also expected to ease.
Scientists advising the Government say there is nothing currently in the data to suggest that people will not be able to enjoy a relatively normal summer, though coronavirus cases may well rise as the autumn approaches.
Asked about mask-wearing in the coming months, one source said that vaccines are working so well, and there is such good vaccine uptake among members of the public, that things will return to much more like normal life over the summer months, with cases dropping very low in May.
However, masks and possibly other measures may be needed next autumn and winter if cases surge, they said.
Nevertheless, the general view among scientific advisers is that the spike in cases in winter will be lower than in the past due to high levels of immunity and vaccination.
The source said that what happens will depend on people’s behaviours as well as measures such as increased ventilation indoors, good hand hygiene and whether people isolate when they display symptoms – seen as the critical to controlling spread.
They said the UK needs to abandon its culture of “presenteeism” and going into work when feeling unwell, instead choosing to stay at home if they fall sick.
The source said there should be a relaxation of measures across all age groups soon, including for those who have had two vaccines, enabling them to meet up more freely.
On the issue of border controls to keep out variants of concern, the source said that even with extremely draconian border measures, all that happens is that there is a delay to importing cases.
Nevertheless, delay is still seen as a valuable tool as it allows experts to work out how to deal with variants and get more information.
But the source said there are currently no variants that completely evade vaccine effectiveness, and people’s immune responses to vaccines is probably enough to have quite a significant effect on most variants.
It comes as documents released on Friday from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) say that, for adults, the majority of contacts (who the virus could be passed on to) are associated with work.
“The trajectory of the epidemic over the coming months is therefore likely to depend to a large extent on the scale of increase in workplace contacts,” the document dated April 8 says.
The papers also note that while rodents are a possible animal reservoir for Covid, the likelihood currently of a variant of concern emerging as a result of adaptation in rodents is low.
Sage has also considered data which suggests that the length of hospital stays of Covid-19 patients may have reduced slightly.
“The reasons for this are not clear but may be related to vaccination and/or differences in the severity of cases,” Sage said.
Other documents released by the Government show that the Health and Safety Executive inspected 17 acute hospitals in 13 NHS Trusts in England as part of a spot check inspection programme between November and January.
This was looking at compliance with rules aimed at minimising risk from Covid, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, hygiene and cleaning, ventilation and dealing with suspected cases.
The data showed that five of the 17 (29%) hospitals showed compliance, four were given verbal advice to support improvement (24%) and eight required formal letters requiring remedial actions to be taken (47%).
Meanwhile, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that around one in 610 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to April 16 – down from one in 480 the previous week.
The ONS said an estimated 90,000 people within the community population in England had Covid-19. This is the first time it has dropped below 100,000 since the week to September 10 2020, when the estimate stood at 59,800, the equivalent of around one in 900 people.
According to latest Government figures, published on Friday, the coronavirus reproduction number, or R value, in England is between 0.8 and 1.
Last week, the figure was between 0.7 and 1.
R represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.
An R number between between 0.8 and 1 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between eight and 10 other people.
The R becomes less reliable as a measure of the pandemic as the number of cases fall.